Friday, May 31, 2013

May recording statistics

With today being the last Friday of the month and the last day of the month, we expected it to be busy and it was. Here are the statistics for this month compared to May 2012:

  • In May 2012, there were 510 deeds recorded; in May 2013 there were 667, an increase of 31%
  •  In May 2012, there were 1223 mortgages recorded; in May 2013 there were 1263, an increase of 11% 
  • In May 2012, there were 29 foreclosure deeds recorded; in May 2013 there were 9, a decrease of 69% 
  • In May 2012, there were 44 orders of notice recorded; in May 2013 there were 20, a decrease of 65%. 
  • In May 2012, there were 5906 total documents recorded; in May 2013 there were 6137, an increase of 9%.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Selecting a new computer system

It was eleven years ago this month that a group of five registers of deeds who had been using the Wang computer system working in conjunction with the Secretary of State's office selected the ACS computer system as a replacement. This registry was the first to install that new system, going active with it on July 1, 2002. Eleven years is an eternity in the computer world so it really is time to begin thinking about what comes next. That doesn't mean that anything is imminent and the current system works just fine for our current methods of operation. It's a bit like the Air Force's fleet of B-52 strategic bombers, all of which were built long before the pilots that fly them today were born but which have been continuously updated and improved and so continue to perform their missions today. Still, there are things our system could do better. One simple improvement would be to link plan images to documents using the same "marginal reference" function that we use to link related documents together. Because of the programming architecture of our current system, that's not possible to do. Another function I believe would be of great benefit would be to supplement the current index with the same type of "word search" technology utilized by Google Books. If you're not familiar with that application, log into (or create) a Google account and select "books" from the menu of Google options. Google has already scanned most of the world's books and makes full text of out-of-copyright books freely available on the Google Books website. To see how it works, type "Benjamin Butler" and click "search" and a list of hundreds of books that contain the name of the Civil War general from Lowell will appear. Click on the link to the book and not only will the full text of the book display on your screen, it will be opened to the page containing your search term. Imagine applying that capability to all document images here at the registry of deeds. Again, it would not replace the current index in its traditional uses, but it would be a great supplementary search to find documents containing street or human names (such as a corner street named in the description or the notary or surveyor involved) that don't make it into the index. There are many other features that would be desirable in a new system. From time to time in the coming months I'll write about other possible options. It is better to consider this stuff in well in advance rather than waiting until a formal search process commences. As we see from our current story, once we buy a system it will be with us for a long time.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Home Sales in the News

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times today have prominently placed stories on improving conditions in the national housing market. The Globe reports that home prices in April rose 14% which is the seventh consecutive monthly increase. One concern is that the number of homes for sale dropped which might lead to a slowdown of the market. I've been writing for a while that perceived improvements in the home sales market are being driven by supply and demand. With interest rates so low, many people are ready to purchase homes but with so many homes still underwater on their outstanding mortgages, not many current owners are able to sell. High demand plus low inventory equals rising prices. The New York Times story addresses this in part, writing that increasing prices are adding to overall consumer confidence. When people feel that trends are positive, it creates what is known as the "wealth effect" meaning people feel wealthier and are more willing to spend money. This in turn improves the economy even more creating an upwards cycle. Anecdotally, one local conveyancer who just left the recording counter mentioned having five closings scheduled already for this Friday which resembled a throw-back to the pre-crisis state of the local real estate market. Hopefully this trend persists.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pace of foreclosures slows

There are still three days left in May, but I thought I'd take a quick look at the number of foreclosure deeds and orders of notice recorded so far this month. There have been a total of six foreclosure deeds (4 in Lowell; 2 in Billerica) and 19 orders of notice (9 in Lowell; 3 in Tewksbury; 2 in Wilmington; and one each in Billerica, Carlisle, Dracut, Tyngsborough and Westford). For the entire month of May last year, there were 29 foreclosure deeds and 57 orders of notice, so even though the month still has some time left in it, there's no way we'll come close to catching up to the totals seen a year ago. That's good news.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Lowell sales: May 20-24

The following properties sold in Lowell this past week: Monday, May 20, 2013 68 Sherman St Unit 68 for $220,000; 800 Broadway Unit 2 for $135,000; 200 Market St Unit 509 for $177,000; 31 Sycamore St for $262,000; Tuesday, May 21, 2013 92 Central St Unit B1 for $140,000; 144 Adams St for $225,000; 10 Kearney Sq U206 for $200,000; 48 State St Unit 48 for $155,000; 250 Butman St for $203,000; 23 Fernald St for $165,000; Wednesday, May 22, 2013 67-69 Newhall St for $212,000; 114 A St for $262,000; 6 Tower Rd for $229,000; 1508 Gorham St Unit 306 for $107,000; Thursday, May 23, 2013 30 Campbell Drive for $215,000 Friday, May 24, 2013 608 Stevens St Unit E for $76,000; 22 Branch St for $117,000; 192 School St for $250,000; 200 Market St Unit A-9 for $419,000.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Distressed Properties Identification and Revitalization Grant

Last night I spoke at the Lowell City Council meeting to urge the city of Lowell to apply for the Distressed Properties Identification and Revitalization Grant recently offered by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. The purpose of this grant is to fund a position with Gateway Cities (such as Lowell) which would be devoted to addressing distressed properties within the city and speeding their return to productive use. Funding for the grant comes from the nationwide settlement recently entered into by various attorneys general (including Martha Coakley) that resolved litigation with five major national lenders for abusive mortgage and foreclosure practices. Here are the remarks I gave last night:
Thank you for this opportunity to speak. I’d like to provide some background to the Distressed Properties Identification and Revitalization Grant from the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley. Reckless lending practices by major national banks were a prime factor the worldwide real estate market collapse of five years ago. These same national banks made the crisis worse through the use of ineffective and sometimes unlawful foreclosure practices. Last year Attorney General Coakley entered into a nationwide financial settlement with these lenders. Because the abusive practices of these lenders had a direct impact on local land records, Attorney General Coakley and her staff have collaborated with the state’s registers of deeds to determine how some of the proceeds of the settlement might be used to rectify some of the harm that was done. Recognizing that just a handful of troubled properties can drag down real estate values in an entire community, my colleagues and I recommended that the money be used to provide grants to Gateway Cities such as Lowell that were hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. These grants would be used by these municipalities to hire a person dedicated to attacking these troubled properties and getting them back into productive use. Now throughout this foreclosure crisis I’ve worked closely with many city offices and I know that Lowell is in better shape than most when it comes to dealing with these types of properties but there are still many troubled properties out there. The real estate market has not recovered; it’s just not as bad as it was. By taking advantage of this grant, the city of Lowell will have more resources to devote to remediating troubled properties and as a consequence, will accelerate the recovery of the local real estate market which will benefit everyone.
As the Attorney General's website makes clear, the deadline for applying for the grant is June 13, 2013 with the award to be made on August 1, 2013.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Realistic View of Housing Market in Globe

An op-ed in today's Globe by Paul McMorrow, an associate editor at Commonwealth Magazine, provides a keen assessment of the state of housing in Massachusetts today. Contrary to all of the glowing reports of a vibrant housing recovery in the mainstream media, real estate continues to be sluggish. McMorrow concurs, describing the current state as "less bad news masquerading as good news." He acknowledges that in certain communities, housing is booming but in most of the Commonwealth's cities and towns, particularly those hit hardest by foreclosures, the recovery is lagging. McMorrow does agree that new foreclosures have dropped substantially but he attributes this not to an overall recovery of housing but to the positive consequences of a series of foreclosure-related statutes enacted by the state legislature last year. All amendments to Chapter 244 (Foreclosures), these new laws imposed a number of requirements on lenders prior to foreclosing. Most significant, perhaps, was an obligation on lenders to consider mortgage modifications before foreclosing. Our own statistics here at Middlesex North tend to corroborate this drop in foreclosures. From January through April of 2012, for instance, there were 75 foreclosure deeds recorded for property in Lowell. For the same four months this year, that number dropped to 28. Along with a reduction in foreclosures, I suspect this new law has increased the number of short sales that are occurring. The term "short sale" describes a situation in which the seller owes more money on the mortgage than the house is worth, but the lender acknowledges this and agrees to release the mortgage upon payment of less than the full principal owed at the time of the sale to a third party. A review of home sales in Lowell during April discloses that many of the sales were made by homeowners whose initial mortgage amount exceeded the sales price of the property. While that is not absolute proof that a short sale has occurred, it's a pretty good indicator of one. Short sales aren't great for the market, but they're much better than foreclosures, so this is a positive development.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Website problems

Something is wrong with the Middlesex North portion of the MassLandRecords website. While we can access the site, the appearance of the content is distorted and it is not functioning as it should be. What's weird is that the same problem is not evident on any of the other registry sites on MassLandRecords. The tech support people are working on this but don't yet seem to know what is causing it. I'll update when there are further developments. UPDATE: As of 1130 am, the Middlesex North portion of the MassLandRecords website seems to be working OK, at least on our web-enabled computers here at the registry.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Major Upgrade to Google Maps

I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of my invitation to join the new Google Maps application. Reading about it in yesterday's New York Times, I learned that this new version is the most radical redesign in the application's eight years of existence. Now, everyone's map will be unique and will be uniquely rendered each time you open the application. As the Times reporter observed, this new feature "hovers over the line between useful and creepy." It seems that sometime recently Google altered its terms of service. That's the boilerplate language to which we all click "I agree" even though we don't read it. This change gave Google permission to incorporate our searches, emails and all of our other information into the mapping application. Let's say I recently searched for "coffee shops in Lowell." With the new app, when I display a map of Lowell, all of the city's coffee shops will be highlighted. Ads for some, including ready-to-use coupons will also display. If I travel to Worcester and consult a Google map to aid navigation, coffee shops in that city will display. Like the reader said, "useful and creepy." In the registry of deeds' world here in the Commonwealth, much of our planning for the future involves a greater use of mapping technology. We envision all real estate related information - ownership documents, subdivision plans, assessor records, etc - to be tied to that point on a map. One thing driving both Google and us is the transformation of the world's information technology culture from desktops to mobile devices. As the name states explicitly, a mobile device moves around and knowing where you are is critical. The new Google Maps application is not yet publicly available. To use it, you have to ask for an invitation. I've just done that. As soon as I get my response, I'll do a follow-up blog post.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mid-month recording statistics

May is half over so here are the statistics for the first two weeks of the month compared to the same period last year. The number of deeds recorded was up 34%, rising from 216 in the first two weeks of May 2012 to 289 in the first two weeks of May 2013. Mortgages were down 4%, sliding from 559 to 535 for the same two periods. Foreclosure deeds were down - I think this math is correct - 940%, plunging from 16 to just 1. Orders of notice were down 52%, dropping from 27 to 13. Total documents recorded was up just 2%, rising from 2605 to 2649.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More statistics: 2012 vs 2013

Are things getting better with real estate? That's a question I'm often asked these days so I'm constantly looking for new evidence to use in forming an opinion on the topic. Today I checked our volume of recording and our revenue collection for the first four month of 2013 and compared those figures to the same items in 2012. From January thru April 2013, we recorded 23,310 documents, an increase of 10% from the 21,203 recorded during the same period in 2012. Our revenue collected from all sources was also up in 2013. From January thru April 2013, we took in $3,888,487 from all sources. For the same months in 2012, the amount was $3,595,624. That's an increase of 8%. The amount of those totals collected as deeds excise tax showed no such growth. During the first four months of 2013, we took in deeds excise tax of $1,450,882. In 2012, that figure was $1,440,290. That's an increase of just 0.07%. Because the excise tax collected is based on the purchase price of property and because the number of deeds recorded in 2013 was 21% higher than the amount recorded in 2012 (2009 in 2013; 1656 in 2012), it would seem that prices went down. The one caveat is that many of the deeds recorded, perhaps as many as half, are related-party transfers that incur no tax. If there are more of these "no consideration" deeds recorded, it would throw off other calculations.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Document recording methods

I've written frequently about the volume of electronic recording we're processing this year. Thus far in 2013, documents sent to us electronically have averaged 40% of all recordings. But what percentage of documents come to us through the US Mail and by courier services such as Fedex and UPS? Our standard procedure is to annotate any document that comes to us in the mail with a small letter "M" written in the upper right corner. Electronically recorded documents have a very distinctive cover sheet. By counting all of the M's and all of the efile coversheets, we can determine how many documents were recorded by each of those methods. All the rest were recorded by walk-in customers. To get a sense of the breakdown between the three methods of recording, I reviewed all documents recorded from Monday, May 6 though Friday, May 10. During that five day period, we recorded a total of 1119 documents. Of those 462 (41%) were recorded electronically; 409 (37%) were recorded by walk-in customers; and 248 (22%) came through the mail.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Is the foreclosure crisis over?

Early this morning I received a "breaking news" email from Banker and Tradesman:
A significant decline in Massachusetts foreclosures during the month of March indicates the foreclosure crisis is over, according to an article in Monday's issue of Banker & Tradesman.
Well that's certainly good news. I hope it's true although I'm not sure. According to B&T, there were 284 petitions to foreclose filed in March which represents an 82 percent decrease from 1,621 in March 2012. These petitions would be the initial filing in the Land Court for compliance with the Service Members Civil Relief Act. Our own statistics also show a big drop. For the period of January through April 2013, the number of foreclosure deeds was 59 compared to 146 recorded during the same four months in 2012. That's a 60% decline. Orders of notice dropped by half that amount, from 245 in Jan-Apr 2012 to 172 in the same months this year.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Electronically recorded deeds

In a recent blog post I looked at the percentage of certain document types that were being recorded electronically. While electronically recorded documents account for 40% of our overall recordings, 55% of all mortgages and 55% of all mortgage discharges are being recorded electronically. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that 26% of deeds - and this is based on our April recordings - are being recorded electronically. This led me to question whether the deeds that were recorded electronically were primarily those with no consideration (i.e., transfers typically between related parties) as opposed to arms-length transaction. Of the 579 deeds recorded in April, 258 were for $1 consideration accounting for 46% of all deeds. Of those 258, 59 were recorded electronically (23%). Of the deeds for full consideration - 321 of them - 92 were recorded electronically accounting for 29% of them. This breakdown demonstrates that local attorneys are shifting full sales to electronic recording and that the technology is no longer the domain of random discharges and assignment.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

New York and Massachusetts AGs contemplate further litigation

The Attorneys General of New York and Massachusetts both assert that Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citibank, and Ally Financial Inc., the five major lenders which entered into a $25 billion settlement with 49 state attorneys general, have repeatedly violated parts of that settlement which could lead to the AGs reopening litigation against the lenders. The Massachusetts situation is reported in today's Globe while the New York case is covered by the Times.

Monday, May 06, 2013

More on electronic recording

An astute blog reader responded by email to my post from Friday on the volume of electronic recordings during the month of April by suggesting I calculate what portion of our overall volume of certain document types was attributable to electronic recording. I did and found the results quite interesting. We track electronic recordings by four categories: discharges, deeds, mortgages and all others. In April 2013, we recorded a total of 1662 discharges of which 895 were recorded electronically - that's 54% of all discharges. A similar percentage resulted with mortgages, as well. In April, we recorded 1290 mortgages of which 707 were recorded electronically - that's 55%. The portion of deeds recorded electronically was less but still more than I expected. Of the 582 deeds recorded at the registry, 149 were recorded electronically - that's 26%. So far this year electronic recording has consistently accounted for 40% of our overall recordings. But that method of recording also accounted for 54% of all discharges and 55% of all mortgages recorded.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Electronic Filing in April

Documents filed electronically had been accounting for 40% of all recordings in each month since the start of 2013. That metric slid very slightly in April, dropping to 39% of our overall document intake. For the month, we recorded a total of 6025 documents of which 2368 came to us electronically. That averages 287 documents per day, 113 of which were electronically filed. The breakdown of electronically recorded documents for the month was as follows: There were 895 discharges recorded accounting for 38% of all electronic recordings. There were 149 deeds accounting for 6% of all recordings. There were 707 mortgages recorded, accounting for 30% of all electronic recordings. There were 617 documents of miscellaneous types, accounting for 26% of electronically recorded documents.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

April recording statistics

The month-to-month district-wide statistics for April look pretty good: DEEDS - In April 2013, there were 582 deeds recorded; in April 2012 there were 458, an increase of 27% MORTGAGES - In April 2013, there were 1290 mortgages recorded; in April 2012 there were 1162, an increase of 11% FORECLOSURE DEEDS - In April 2013, there were 19 foreclosure deeds recorded; in April 2012 there were 37, an decrease of 49%. ORDERS OF NOTICE - In April 2013, there were 27 orders of notice recorded; in April 2012 there were 44, a decrease of 39%.